Various: Hymns

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Collegium
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Sing, Ye Heavens
WORKS: Hymns
PERFORMER: Cambridge Singers, City of London Sinfonia Brass/John Rutter; Thelma Owen (harp), John Scott (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: COLCD 126
Hymns pose a problem for recordings. If you’re going for authenticity, a typical parish church congregation with organ is probably preferable to the seamless perfection of the Cambridge Singers here. There’s something about over-professional singing of hymns that grates on me – I want a few rough edges and someone tone-deaf in the back pew.

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However, if you like your hymns to sound celestial, this is an excellent compilation. As the subtitle ‘Hymns for All Time’ suggests, there’s a good range of old and newer (though nothing more recent than the turn of the last century, apart from Rutter’s own hymn to music, composed last year); and the contrast between festive arrangements with brass and more intimate ones with harp makes a coherent musical programme.

My alarm bells rang on reading ‘arr. John Rutter’ against practically every hymn except the Gregorian chant. But Rutter has kept his touch light: traditional melodies and, very often, harmonies, are preserved, and his contribution is limited to a brass fanfare here, a new organ accompaniment to a verse there… and a new descant practically everywhere.

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Some of the arrangements, particularly those with harp accompaniment, I found too saccharine. The unadulterated Orlando Gibbons of ‘Drop, drop, slow tears’ was a relief, easily the loveliest track in its very simplicity. Janet Banks